Image: President George W. Bush
Ron Edmonds  /  AP
The White House has threatened to veto a measure to block two-thirds of covert ops and argues that Congress "is overstepping its bounds and infringing on the president's right to protect intelligence."
updated 7/16/2008 12:55:43 PM ET 2008-07-16T16:55:43

The Democratic-controlled Congress and President Bush are headed to yet another veto showdown this year on intelligence matters, this time on whether the president should be required to divulge to lawmakers more of the nation's most closely held secrets.

The House was on track Wednesday to pass legislation that would block two-thirds of the federal covert operations budget until each member of the congressional intelligence committees is briefed on all secret operations under way. Panel members also would be granted access to any other details necessary to assess the value of intelligence operations.

The legislation is an attempt by Democrats, struggling to challenge Bush on major national security issues, to step up their role in overseeing an intelligence program they say has gone astray. Lawmakers complain that the Bush administration left most of them out of the loop on highly classified — and controversial — matters, including creation and destruction of certain CIA interrogations and Bush's warrantless wiretapping program.

For its part, the White House says Congress is overstepping its bounds and infringing on the president's right to protect intelligence.

In a statement Wednesday, the Bush administration threatened a presidential veto in part because the bill could expose information previously protected under executive privilege — such as pre-decision legal opinions, risk assessments and cost estimates.

Video: Bill protects telecoms from lawsuits The legislation "would undermine long-standing arrangements between Congress and the president regarding reporting of sensitive intelligence matters," the statement said.

Other provisions that provoked a veto threat include a prohibition on the use of contractors to interrogate detainees and a demand that the CIA inspector general audit all covert operations every three years. The administration contends that the required audits would "interfere with the independent judgment" of the agency.

The bill authorizes intelligence spending for the 2009 budget year, which begins Oct. 1. The amount in the intelligence budget is classified.

The Senate has drafted a similar measure. But unlike the House bill, the Senate version includes a provision by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that would limit the CIA and FBI to interrogation tactics listed in the publicly available Army Field Manual on Interrogation.

The White House is expected to veto the final bill if it includes the restriction. Democrats lack the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a veto.

Both bills came in the midst of a bitter debate on federal surveillance rules and the president's warrantless wiretapping program initiated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Earlier this month, Congress bowed to Bush's demands and sent him legislation that would shield telecommunications companies from lawsuits complaining they helped the U.S. spy on Americans.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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